Binyamin Netanyahu, Iran, and the cartoon bomb

The US has a long history of terrible visual aids.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech to the UN last night in which he called on the collected member states to set a "clear, red line" beyond which Iran could not take its supposed ambitions to make a nuclear bomb.

The premier illustrated his remarks by drawing a red line on a cartoon bomb with a permanent marker.

Binyamin Netanyahu demonstrates where the international community should draw a red line. Photograph: Getty Imagess

The line should, he said, be drawn at 90 per cent of the way to bomb creation, a point which he believed Iran would reach in "next spring, at most by next summer."

Binyamin Netanyahu draws a red line. Photograph: Getty Images

Binyamin Netanyahu, after drawing said red line, glares at assembled delegates. Photograph: Getty Images

In making creative use of props, Netanyahu is merely joining in with the political culture in the United States, where the UN building is based. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, for instance, famously gave an entire budget response based around the metaphor of slaying the "debt and deficit dragon":

In 2006, Senator Debbie Stabenow experienced what Politico called "self-immolation by poster" when she spoke with a sign that appeared to declare that she was "Dangerously Incompetent":

And when fighting President Obama's healthcare plan, the House Republicans used an anti-visual-aid when John Boehner appeared with a flowchart that made the reform look dangerously, incomprehensibly complex:

Binyamin Netanyahu and an Acme brand bomb. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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